March started days ago. The Madness started Wednesday night.
On an evening where bubble teams could've punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament and boosters could've started humming bars of "One Shining Moment," teams turned down invitations like they were to a wedding without an open bar or the People's Choice Awards.
A memo, fellows. This isn't an invitation to a candlelight dinner with Randy Johnson. "Big Dance" doesn't mean you're cutting a rug with Mark Madsen or waltzing cheek-to-cheek with Mike Tyson.
You actually want to go to this thing.
Yet any team with bubble aspirations did its best impersonation of your 401k.
Virginia Tech had the equivalent of a print-at-home ticket to the Big Dance, but had no more luck finding their way into the tournament than coach Seth Greenberg would have recommending a good barber. But at least they lost to North Carolina. What's your excuse, Boston College?
The Eagles, who have already cleared a whole carton of egg of their face by losing to Harvard in a something that doesn't involve fractals, lost to N.C. State, a team that could only generously be described as a bubble team if, in fact the NIT has a bubble.
The formerly storied Kentucky Wildcats lost to a Georgia team that's 11th in what might be a three-bid conference and long ago fired its coach. Then again, that's what playing with the passion of a man waiting on a bus will do to you.
Miami, which made Duke and North Carolina sweat like Gary Williams in back-to-back games in early February, and looked like a possible Sweet 16 team a month ago, ensured its postseason wouldn't get in the way of Spring Break, falling to Georgia Tech.
Minnesota, a borderline-out bubble team beat Wisconsin, a borderline-in bubble team in the Big Ten, officially giving the league more possibly qualifiers than the total of points some of its teams have scored in a half this season.
And then there was the Gators, a team that just two years ago was flirting with Tom Emanski territory as back-to-back national champions.
Florida lost to Mississippi State in a game that wasn't even as close as its 80-71 score indicates. The Bulldogs took a nine-point lead in at the half, led by 16 in the second and never once so much as had the Gators in drafting distance in the final frame. The Bulldogs, we're fairly certain, could tell you where the CBI will be held without looking it up.
And Florida's loss could be magnified for all the teams that counted the Gators among their top-50 RPI wins, like Syracuse and South Carolina. The Gators were 49th in the RPI before falling to the Bulldogs. And that number will certainly gain a few pounds after getting dumped by Mississippi State. In fact, should the Gamecocks lose tonight against Tennessee, they could conceivably enter Selection Sunday with double-digit SEC wins and zero victories over the RPI top 50.
Of course, this is America. There's always a reward for kicking back and laughing at the misery of others (This, we suppose, is why Detroit Lion games make it on television). So who benefits from the bubble burst?
Maryland, who has four wins in four tries over N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, and whose two top wins over North Carolina and Michigan State match up with anyone on the bubble, should get a bump out of all the wreckage, provided the Terps beat ACC doormat Virginia this weekend. Providence might find its way in now with a solid league record and, like Maryland, a recent marquee win, over Pittsburgh. Michigan can play the big-win card too, with victories over Duke and UCLA, but the Wolverines' most notable victory in the past two months, Purdue, perhaps predictably for last night, lost to Northwestern, a team whose good old days involve Evan Eschmeyer.
And Penn State, who has no great wins to speak of, must look a lot more attractive this morning because the Nittany Lions have nothing that's even in the same Congressional district as a bad loss. If last night proved anything, it's that avoiding embarrassment might be the toughest thing to do in college basketball.
That, or get Wojciechowksi spelled correctly in caligraphy.
But each of those teams are written in pencil, and lightly at that.
So who was the real winner? The conference tournaments. These weekend events were usually three and four-day practices for the NCAA Tournament, an exercise in seeding and souvenir programs. Now they'll be stage for nearly every team to play their way onto, or off, the bubble.
And, of course, the college basketball fan. Beacuse the Madness is finally here.